When deciding whether or not to go forward with this series, I relied heavily on those already in the scouting world for advice. Scouting players is a very difficult challenge, and despite my egotistical belief in my own ability, I'm not foolish enough to think my analysis is the final word.
However, I have been able to see most of the players in the Rangers' system, and I have had the opportunity to discuss the abilities of those players with people in the business of talent evaluation. It is from those discussions and from my own observations that these scouting reports were crafted. Scouting isn't an exact science, and I'm sure there will be differing opinions on the grades, but I'm confident that all of the analysis presented here will be completely objective and accurate to the best of my ability.
Former Baseball HQ prospect writer and current member of the St. Louis Cardinals scouting department, Deric McKamey, on how players are graded by scouts:
Scouts grade players based on a 20-to-80 (or 2-8) scale, with 80 representing the highest achievable grade. The grade of 50 is considered major league average. Position players are graded in five categories (hitting, power, speed, throwing, and fielding), which are typically referred to as the "five tools." Players will also receive grades for base running, arm accuracy, baseball instinct, and aggressiveness, though they do not account as much for the final grade.
An amateur player or minor league player will receive two grades for each tool: a present grade and a future grade, based on how they are expected to perform in the majors. Future grades are added and then divided by the number of grades to determine their Overall Future Potential (OFP). A scout can then adjust a player's OFP by 10 points based on the lesser categories and their gut instinct.
Justin Smoak's Grades:
Justin Smoak was a first-round selection in the 2008 amateur draft out of the University of South Carolina. Smoak, considered by many to be the best pure hitter in the draft class, experienced an unexpected fall to the Rangers, who held the 11th-overall pick. Negotiations went down to the wire, but Smoak finally agreed to an over-slot minor league contract carrying a $3.5 million signing bonus. This investment is sure to pay off, as Smoak possesses the most advanced hitting tools in the system, putting his journey to the major leagues on the express track.
As far as pure hitting tools go, there aren't many minor leaguers that have the ability to hit a baseball like Smoak can. His hitting fundamentals are sound from both sides of the plate; he keeps his hands back, has a calm load, and a smooth path to the ball with excellent lift and bat plane. His swing from the left side is slightly more compact, but his superior strength creates enough bat speed to give him power from both sides of the plate.
His swing from the right side, while slightly longer, doesn't appear to have an exploitable hole that would make him susceptible to balls on the inner half of the plate. Thanks to his mechanics, he is able to stay inside the ball and generate tremendous bat speed, producing power to all fields. He's very Mark Teixeira-esque in that regard, although Smoak's swing is more compact. In fact, the comparisons to Mark Teixeira, while fairly obvious and easy to deduce based on surface information, are reasonably accurate. Smoak's offensive output will probably fall short of Teixeira's yearly offensive production, but his bat will still be an above-average force from both sides of the plate.
Overall, Smoak is the most advanced offensive threat in the Rangers system since the aforementioned Teixeira. His advanced approach at the plate in combination with his ability to make consistent, hard contact will ensure his ability to get on base at a high clip at the major league level. His power, a 65-70 grade, will eventually produce 25-30 homers and 30-35 doubles a season. I don’t think it's a stretch to expect Smoak to eventually produce a .290/.370/.450 batting line on a yearly basis.
On defense, Smoak is everything you would want in a first baseman. His glove is a plus tool that swallows up everything within its grasp. His arm is only average, but his throws are accurate and his mechanics are sound. He's a large target with solid footwork around the bag, and despite lacking exceptional first-step quickness, has more than just fall-down range at first base. His overall defensive skill set will eventually place him in the top tier of defensive first basemen in the American League and could one day lead to some arbitrary hardware as a result.
Smoak's raw tools point to a player that straddles the line of superstar and above-average major league regular. His speed lowers his raw OFP grade, but his final grade was adjusted up four points based on his other tools and their weight as they apply to his game. Smoak should see Double-A Frisco by the summer, if not to start the season, with a chance for an 2009 call-up if the minors prove to be no obstacle in his ascension.